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Sichuan cuisine in DFW

y
YingZheng Feb 1, 2010 07:41 AM

Ok, so the competition in the world of Dallas' Sichuan cuisine is on. We have three specialized restaurants (maybe more) with authentic dishes hailing from Sichuan Province. Little Sichuan, Sichuanese Cuisine, and the new Royal Sichuan. Which is best? What are the pros/cons of each restaurant?

I've always been a little Sichuan Diehard. I love that many of the specials on the whiteboard are from the owner's garden--very fresh. However I tried Royal Sichuan for the first time this weekend. I ate there Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday for lunch... Damn.

The menu shows much more versatility than Little Sichuan or Sichuanese in my opinion. For example, there are several whole fish dishes that are mind-blowing. The one I tried was a whole tilapia with picked chilis. It had a dynamic presentation and was swimming in a sauce with the chilis piled on top. Some at the table found it too spicy, but I disagree. I tried the classic staples Ma Po Tofu and Shui Zhu yu (water boiled fish.) The dishes are fine here, but could have been spicier. I believe that they hold back on the mala spice for western diners. The cold bar is excellent: bamboo shoots and a cabbage dish being my person favorites. I've found the food to be EXTREMELY fresh. I dont care about atmosphere at all, but this place isnt bad. Clean and somewhat sophisticated compared to its competition.

I have never been a fan of Sichuanese cuisine in plano. I find the food to not be very fresh. Although it is spicer than the fair at little Sichuan, I've always thought little sichuan's flavors to be better.

But now I am obviously a Royal Sichuan diehard.

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  1. l
    luniz Feb 1, 2010 08:47 AM

    The problem with Little Sichuan is somehow I always get stuck with the new waitress who thinks I don't know what I'm trying to order and won't let me get anything off the white board.

    1 Reply
    1. re: luniz
      KWagle Dec 16, 2010 02:41 PM

      I'm surprised that if you can read the whiteboard, they won't let you order from it. I'd be pretty annoyed by that. But I originally wrote this under the assumption that you were asking them to translate from the whiteboard and running into resistance. Oops.

      I'm happy to try to translate handwritten specials from good photographs. I certainly need the practice at that. But learning to read even a small bit of Chinese will get you a long way towards being able to order those magical items from the specials board, such as ma la hotpot with duck blood and pork intestine. (Mmm, yummy.) Grab a copy of Pleco (the basic version is free) or eStroke (under $10) and a device to run them on (that's the expensive part!) and learn to read *and write* at least a few dozen of the basic characters. I would guess that a hundred would be far more than enough to get you through the basic food items on a whiteboard. eStroke will help you learn and practice the dozen or so stroke order rules, but after I learned the basics of stroke order, I switched to Pleco and I rarely use eStroke anymore.

      Learning to *write* means when you encounter characters you haven't seen before, you can write them and eStroke or Pleco will translate them for you. Pleco also sells a new live OCR module (currently in its first release for iPhone 4) which will translate characters and words for you in real time, though you'll still need some context to figure out that the "braised duck" isn't actually a "fever." Pleco is free but has a huge number of useful paid add-ons, including a full-screen handwriting recognition module, a document reader that can help you read many text-based Web pages, and a not-very-pretty (okay, it's ugly compared to eStroke, and the developer already knows I think that) but *extremely* powerful stroke-order diagram system.

      Then, even on your first visit, you can point to the board and ask "Is that some kind of duck... duck intestines?" (It turned out to be, so I was told, duck gizzards rather than intestines. I've never had bird intestines and am anxious to try them.) Do that a few times, and eventually you'll learn everything that's on the boards--at least in my experience, they don't actually change the specials very often.

      And, as has been pointed out elsewhere, becoming a regular, and/or getting to know the staff (talking with them after the meal, for example) does in fact get you better service. But I still carry a bottle of 花椒 (the so-called Sichuan peppercorn) along because even if I ask for my food 加麻 (jia ma, extra numbing) I still almost never get as much as I like... now I'm thinking I also need to carry cumin, and a few other things as well. But in many cases, it's hard to become an actual regular, so developing some independent knowledge about the cuisine is a useful adjunct.

      ~ Kiran <entropy@io.com>

    2. LewisvilleHounder Feb 1, 2010 09:30 AM

      I will start off saying that the Sichuan style of Chinese cooking has grown to be one of my favorite cusines in the Metroplex. If I had the budget and lived close by I would eat at any of the three restaurants everyday. Below are some accounts of why I like each and the first run of Royal Sichuan. I will say that I was impressed by Royal Sichuan and look to return. All in all I don't really believe in judging on atmosphere but my thoughts are below on each restaurant.

      I will note that I have only been to Royal Sichuan once and so far I really liked the food (I went with my wife and two foodie friends). We ordered dishes that normally most Americans (non Asians) would not order. We got the Beer Braised Duck, Frog Legs with Preserved Peppers, Three Types of Edible Fungus (all mushrooms) on a Siizling Plate and Chongquin Fried Chicken with Dried Chilies.

      Pros - Out of the four dishes we had, I really liked the duck, frog legs and mushrooms the best. The frog legs were quite meaty and were quite nice with the peppers (for some reason the green peppers at any Sichuan place don't upset my stomach). The duck although hacked to olbivion had some nice spice to it (loved the floating sichuan pepper corns) and I liked the really like the whole spices in the broth. I could drink that broth any time of day it was so good. The three mushroom had a nice grill flavor like they were grilled over flame and then put into a light sauce....simple and nothing to complicate the dish.

      Cons - The fried chicken we had was really anything special. It was nicely fried and crispy but just wasn't a "wow" dish for me. The place was nearly full when I arrived and literally a steady succesion of people walked in and were seated. I was afraid we might not get a table as we were waiting on our friends to arrive. The place is cramped and sometimes dodging diners going to the cold bar or waitresses delivering dishes makes just eating difficult if you are seated in the center of the place; as I was. It does however make is very easy to lean over and see what you neighbor has or to ask them what a certain dish is. I wish the place was about triple the size so to make it more roomy and could accomodate more people. Also I don't like the spcie dictatorship they have going on. I would just like them to give the same spice level to everyone no matter if they can handle it. I don't think you should be eating at a "spicy" restaurant if you hate spicy food.

      As for the restaurants each one has its likes and dislikes.

      Sichuanese - Cons - The place is dirty looking and half the time I am wondering if it is safe to eat there. Most of the waitresses, I believe, have gone to a training class of how to avoid menu questions from non-Asian diners. The dishes aren't quite clean in flavors as their counterparts and heavy handed on the oil (something I have only come to appreciate from the Pakistani's).

      Pros - I think the only redeeming quality is the fact they don't hold back on the spice, they do have Sichuan hot pots (if that is your thing), and the flavor profile is consistent (leading me to believe they used a canned sauce).

      Little Sichuan - Cons - Sometimes the dishes can be boring and not spiced enough. The waitstaff may forget about you and your water if busy. Limited menu so not quite as diverse. Sometimes a dish you really like on one visit can dissapoint on another (leads me to believe either the ingredient quality is not the same or the chef is off that night).

      Pros - when in season the vegetable dishes and white board specials can be sublime. Jean Gao, when there, is very nice to talk to and very interested in the quality of the food there. The cold cucumber dish is a real winner and I don't believe it is on the menu but worthy of a try (no matter of season).

      All in all I think Royal Sichuan will remain on top for sure slection and flavor but as far as pure cooking talent Little Sichuan will win. Little Sichuan while limited waits for the best ingredients ,when in season, and gives you dishes to push the limits of the menu showing the skill of the chef. I believe Royal Sichuan, while very good, will have the same dishes and not so many new/special dishes to offer in the future. It is all still early in the game to truly tell but that is how I forsee things happening.

      1 Reply
      1. re: LewisvilleHounder
        y
        YingZheng Feb 1, 2010 11:08 AM

        Thanks for the reply LewisvilleHounder, I always look forward to hearing your thoughts. And thanks for coining the term "spice dictatorship," because it's certainly true. Got me laughing, too. I have a big bag of hua jiao peppers at home, Im tempted to bring my own at this point. The whole fish dish (again have I made it clear how BEAUTIFUL this dish was? there are several on the menu I cant account for how the others look/taste) was marginally spicy, but still not nuclear. Little Sichuan's cucumbers still have a place in my heart even though I'm betraying them for Royal Sichuan now.

        I did notice a specials board, but my Mandarin is fuzzy and I couldnt read it. It's in neon green above the cold bar. Someone investigate?

        I agree, Sichuan regional cuisine is definitely my favorite. I'm glad it's pretty well represented here in Dallas.

      2. kuidaore Feb 2, 2010 08:34 AM

        We ate at Royal Sichuan with some chowhounds, all of whom love spicy food. They all said the food wasn't that spicy so I guess they held back on the spice (looking at Luniz' face!) That's why I was going to have my Chinese friend order in Chinese, but he got there after we finished ordering.

        Chongquin Fried Chicken with Dried Chilies was what the waitress (owner?) recommended it (after she figured I wasn't Chinese--she might have recommended something else if I spoke Chinese!) It was good, but nothing like "wow" as LewisvilleHounder said. We didn't have any of the dishes LewsvilleHounder had so we need to go back.

        1. irodguy Feb 2, 2010 12:14 PM

          I have added Royal Sichuan into our office lunch rotation. The only problem I find is that the wait staff tends to have the food adjusted to depending on who you are. I went with friends who are from Cheng Du and the food was on fire. I went with a couple of other friends and the same dishes were not nearly as spicy. I tried my theory and include my Sichuan friend again and wow back to really spicy.

          Overall I have to say that regardless the quality of the dishes are much better at Royal Sichuan. I am not necessarily speaking of the quality of the cooking, but rather the raw ingredients.

          1. j
            J.R. Feb 2, 2010 05:29 PM

            Ok, so this thread prompted me to visit during lunch today. I far from a Sichuan expert, but I really like the place and what I had. I asked the waiter to suggest something and he asked if I wanted beef, fish or pork and I said fish. He suggested the sliced firery fish. I was noticing that many of the regular types had large bowl that didn't appear to be noodle soup. Sure enough, he brought the large bowl a red, somewhat oil-red, medium thick soup chalk full of fish on top with an entire layer of Napa Cabbage underneath. It was topped with crushed red chilis and cilantro. I asked him what type of fish was in the dish and he said Flounder and it indeed tasted like it. I really enjoyed Royal Sichuan. The waiter was very helpful and the decor was very nice and clean. He told me to come back and we'd work our way through the menu. Thumbs up.

            12 Replies
            1. re: J.R.
              y
              YingZheng Feb 3, 2010 06:03 AM

              What you had was Shui Zhu Yu (Water boiled fish), a classic staple of sichuan cuisine. It's supposed to also be one of the hottest on the menu. While the flavor was great, I found (as has been said multiple times in this thread) it to be mild.

              I am an American but I speak a bit of mandarin. I emphasized to the waitress that "我想要更辣" Wo Xiang Yao Geng le. Translation: I want it spicy. Still nothing. Is it really that mindblowing when you go with native sichuanese? I hope they catch wind of this thread and start to open up. This is Texas and many "foreign devils" here like it HOT.

              1. re: YingZheng
                j
                J.R. Feb 3, 2010 06:32 AM

                Thanks for the color on the water braised fish. It was good and spicy yesterday. Any suggestions on what to get next?

                1. re: J.R.
                  y
                  YingZheng Feb 3, 2010 06:39 AM

                  Yes. I really enjoyed the whole fish. There are several on the menu and I cant remember specifically what this one was called, but I am probably going tonight and can tell you. It was a whole tilapia that had two layers of sauce: one was a thin rice wine based sauce that it was sitting in, and the other a sauce of simple wok-fried pickled red peppers on top of the fish. My favorite dish so far....

                  I really like the cold bar offerings like the bamboo shoots. There is a dish of fish heads in chili sauce that I am eager to try, too. I will be exploring the entire menu. =]

                  I'm kind of partial to the cold noodles too, but they might not be everyones cup of tea as they are a bit sweet. Until I try everything on the menu, I can only recommend what I've had so far. ;)

                  I'm obsessed hah.

                  1. re: YingZheng
                    j
                    J.R. Feb 3, 2010 06:47 AM

                    great and thanks. Keep the recs comming as my officfe is just down the street and I'm intruiged by this place.

                    1. re: YingZheng
                      LewisvilleHounder Feb 3, 2010 07:50 AM

                      Luckily I have all my go to restaurant menus uploaded on Picasaweb.

                      Here are all of the Fish dishes and the location on the menu:

                      Chef's Recommended
                      C7 - Steamed Whole Fish w/ Diced Hot Red Peppers
                      C8 - Spicy Hot Fillet (I assume that means fish)
                      C11 - Golden Valley Whole Fish
                      C12 - Fresh Whole Fish in a Spicy Bean Sauce
                      C13 - Sichuan Style Whole Fish
                      C14 - Onion Whole Fish
                      C15 - Sweet & Sour Whole Fish
                      C18 - Shredded Fish With Pine Nuts
                      C19 - Sliced Fish with Bean Jelly

                      Soft Tofu Pot With Cayenne Pepper
                      E4 - Sliced Fish in Soft Tofu Pot with Cayenne Pepper
                      E5 - Steamed Fish in Soft Tofu Pot

                      Fiery Hot Pot
                      F6 - Sliced Fish in Fiery Sauce

                      Pickled Peppers
                      G6 - Sliced Fish with Pickled Peppers
                      G8 - Kung Pao Sliced Fish
                      G9 - Twice Cooked Sliced Fish

                      Hot Pot
                      I2 - Hot Pot Fish

                      Savory Hot
                      M5 - Savory Hot Sliced Fish

                      House Special
                      O11 - Sweet & Sour Fillet (Again I assume fish)

                      Perhaps YingZheng can help you out with which one it was J.R. now that he has all the options.

                      1. re: YingZheng
                        LewisvilleHounder Feb 3, 2010 07:52 AM

                        Luckily I have all my go to restaurant menus uploaded on Picasaweb.

                        Here are all of the Fish dishes and the location on the menu to help YingZheng:

                        Chef's Recommended
                        C7 - Steamed Whole Fish w/ Diced Hot Red Peppers
                        C8 - Spicy Hot Fillet (I assume that means fish)
                        C11 - Golden Valley Whole Fish
                        C12 - Fresh Whole Fish in a Spicy Bean Sauce
                        C13 - Sichuan Style Whole Fish
                        C14 - Onion Whole Fish
                        C15 - Sweet & Sour Whole Fish
                        C18 - Shredded Fish With Pine Nuts
                        C19 - Sliced Fish with Bean Jelly

                        Soft Tofu Pot With Cayenne Pepper
                        E4 - Sliced Fish in Soft Tofu Pot with Cayenne Pepper
                        E5 - Steamed Fish in Soft Tofu Pot

                        Fiery Hot Pot
                        F6 - Sliced Fish in Fiery Sauce

                        Pickled Peppers
                        G6 - Sliced Fish with Pickled Peppers
                        G8 - Kung Pao Sliced Fish
                        G9 - Twice Cooked Sliced Fish

                        Hot Pot
                        I2 - Hot Pot Fish

                        Savory Hot
                        M5 - Savory Hot Sliced Fish

                        House Special
                        O11 - Sweet & Sour Fillet (Again I assume fish)

                        Perhaps YingZheng can help you out with which one it was J.R. now that he has all the options.

                         
                         
                         
                        1. re: LewisvilleHounder
                          y
                          YingZheng Feb 3, 2010 07:57 AM

                          Yes I can.

                          C7 - Steamed Whole Fish w/ Diced Hot Red Peppers

                          Now granted I've been looking around and seeing alot of whole fish. One of them had a much thicker sauce, with the fish sitting upright, and a base of silken tofu on the bottom that looked interesting. But I belive that the C7 that I had had a certain elegance about it in the presentation. The wok-fried diced chilis were fantastic and it was the first dish with any note of heat that I have had. The fish is of course steamed and fresh is the key word.

                          BTW--you are my idol Lewisville, heh. Thanks for all of the contributions.

                          (On a different note Lewisville I'd like to know your thoughts on Casa Portugal sometime, a newish Azorean restaurant in Carrolton. I'm not thrilled about their Bacahlau as I prefer my own home cooked version but their sardines show promise. I have another thread going on here about it http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/669721)

                          1. re: YingZheng
                            j
                            J.R. Feb 3, 2010 11:03 AM

                            Wow...thanks guys. Got alot of stuff to try.

                            1. re: J.R.
                              y
                              YingZheng Feb 5, 2010 04:12 AM

                              Had C13 Sichuan style whole fish. Lacked any level of spiciness or mala. The Sichuan chili sauce is the classic sweet one made with ketchup. Flavor was ok, better than I've had the same sauce at the other restaurants.

                              Photo: http://static.px.yelp.com/bphoto/02cp...

                              1. re: YingZheng
                                f
                                fishfry Feb 11, 2010 09:54 AM

                                I had a bowl of Beef Noodle soup and the tofu in hot suace at Royal Sichuan. The beef noodle soup was odd in the fact the meat was corned but the soup had a very good noodles and the broth had a little kick but I had asked for extra spicey. The tofu was good but not great. I did get a little of the numbing sensation but I asked for it extra spicey also.
                                I'm being a little hard on them because they replaced my favorite place in that strip the Mandarain Cafe. The two dishes I ordered were the same I always ordered at Mandarian Cafe and IMHO they weren't as tasty. BUT I do appreciate what they have done with the space. This is a place that I can now take my wife and scaredy cat friends. I tried this once before and they did a U turn when I opened the door. BTW the luch prices are very reasonable.

                                1. re: fishfry
                                  f
                                  fishfry Mar 2, 2010 10:36 AM

                                  Update on Royal Sichuan: I just returned from lunch and my mouth is still numb. I ordered the Tofu in hot sauce and it was great, the best I've had. Maybe they are turning up the heat for the round eyes.

                                  1. re: fishfry
                                    irodguy Mar 2, 2010 04:33 PM

                                    It seems that if they see you there a few times they indeed turn up the heat. I normally just tell them to think of me as somebody from Chengdu. That has gotten me some pretty spicy food.....

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